Canadian National Sport Organizations’ Governance, Branding and Social Media

How can non-profit National Sport Organizations in Canada create effective brands, especially on social media, from which they can co-create value with stakeholders such as athletes, fans, sponsors, and the media? In a three-phase project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Marijke Taks, Benoit Séguin (University of Ottawa) and colleagues examined the challenges faced in managing and governing sports brands, and offer solutions to maximise benefits.

Read more about their research in Research Outreach and in the journal European Sport Management Quarterlyhttps://doi.org/10.1080/16184742.2019.1690538


Hello and welcome to Research Pod! Thank you for listening and joining us today.

In this episode we will be looking at the research of Marijke Taks and Benoit Séguin at the University of Ottawa and colleagues. The team’s study explored brand governance and social media in National Sport Organizations in Canada.

How can non-profit National Sport Organizations (or NSOs) in Canada create effective brands, especially on social media, from which they can co-create value with stakeholders such as athletes, fans, sponsors, and the media?

Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, a 3-phase project explored Canadian NSOs’ governance, branding and social media.

Marijke Taks and Benoit Séguin from the University of Ottawa embarked on the branding component.

Together with colleagues Milena M. Parent, Michael L. Naraine, Russell Hoye and Ashley Thompson, the team examined the challenges faced in managing and governing sports brands.

The team collected surveys from NSO leaders, conducted in-depth interviews, and hosted a workshop and a webinar for NSO representatives, offerering solutions to maximise benefits.

In Canada, National Sport Organisations govern a wide range of Olympic and non-Olympic sports at the national level.

NSOs represent what was previously known as ‘amateur sports.’ They are the pillars of organised sport in the country (for example – swimming, basketball, squash and rugby).

Most of these organisations have long histories, and traditionally don’t exist to make surpluses for owners, but to foster and promote their individual sports for their members and society.

NSOs vary in the size of their budgets, personnel, and size of board of directors. Many of their members are volunteers, and usually older board members have a history within, and passion for their sport.

Most NSOs are largely funded by the government. In recent years, though, there has been an increase in expenditure to comply with modernisation programmes.

One example is Safe Sport, which aims to give athletes, coaches, officials, and volunteers of all levels the right to participate in a safe and inclusive training and competitive environment free of abuse, harassment or discrimination.

Obviously, complying with such programmes involves increases in expenditure, however, government funding and support have not kept pace with this.

So, what do we mean by brand governance?

In the modern world a strong brand represents a key asset for a sport organisation. Professional sport teams such as Manchester United or the New York Yankees, and major sport properties like the Olympics or FIFA have recognised the power of brands and developed sophisticated brand management systems. These enable them to leverage their brands and co-create value with a number of stakeholders like athletes, fans, sponsors, and media.

Stakeholders are acknowledged as playing a crucial role in co-creating the brand. The brand can impact on the viability of NSOs, and has potential to enhance visibility, recognition and financial income. In turn, this creates governance challenges for the NSO as it must ensure that the brand is built on, and remains true to its vision, mission and values.

Brand governance is accomplished through long-term policies and overseen by processes such as integrity and transparency. These long-term policies and processes provide guiding principles for the strategic management of a brand that is focused on the development of internal capabilities to develop, manage, and measure brand equity.

While many studies on brand and sport have focused on professional sports and mega-events such as the Olympic Games, there remains an important gap in the understanding of the role of brands and brand governance in NSOs.

This project sought to explore if and how decision-makers of different types of NSOs govern their brand, considering the changing landscape and the increased role and influence of stakeholders and social media on NSOs.

In phase one of the study, 39 chief executive officers and/or board members participated in an online survey, representing 32 of a total of 58 Canadian NSOs.

Data were collected on brand governance in the organization, the interrelationship with stakeholders, and the role of social media in brand governance.

22 Sport Canada-funded NSOs participated in the second phase of the study. (Sport Canada is a branch of the national governmental Department of Canadian Heritage).

This phase consisted of 45 semi-structured interviews with staff and board members, as well as document analyses, looking at strategic plans, annual reports, policies, and financial statements.

In the last and most productive phase, 17 participants representing 15 NSOs from Olympic and non-Olympic sports participated in a one-day workshop. A summary of the previous findings was presented, and participants completed worksheets and discussed in small groups during three breakout sessions.

This was followed by a plenary session where invited experts provided comments and shared insights. Finally, the workshop’s report was presented to all the study’s participating NSOs and reflected upon during a one-hour webinar.

What does the study tell us about brand governance and NSOs?

The study highlights that brand governance is absent in small NSOs and is only in the early stages of application in larger NSOs. The first two phases found that many NSOs don’t really have a brand strategy in place and lack understanding of branding beyond the creation of a logo.

The researchers suggest that this is a missed opportunity, given that many NSOs continue to rely, in large part, on government funding. Those NSOs who have developed brand strategies have had more success in diversifying revenue. Primarily, NSOs deal with their brand internally, with no operational involvement of stakeholders. This misses opportunities for possible knowledge transfer and co-creation to help govern their brand.

Social media was identified as a cost-efficient way to brand the organization, but a lack of control and consistency indicates a need for brand governance related to social media.

NSOs would benefit from actively involving stakeholders to co-create and strengthen their brand. It seems that social media offers the best opportunities for low-cost branding, and good governance should help to overcome the major challenges to monetise and control it effectively.

The first two phases of the study concluded that NSOs’ decision-makers should engage more meaningfully with stakeholders and social media to strengthen their brand governance.

The workshop phase of the study provided suggestions for NSOs in two important areas:

Firstly, in creating a brand, and secondly, in relation to best practices for brand management and governance.

There were many recommendations on how to achieve these, though given the diverse nature of NSOs it was recognised that it’s very difficult to offer a one-size-fits-all solution.

As far as creating a brand is concerned, the authors recommend that NSOs define who they are branding for, and bear their audiences in mind throughout – are they recreational users, or high performance participants? Communication with peers is similarly important, to ensure that resources and knowledge are shared.

Conducting a brand architecture study allows NSOs to find out what the sport means at all levels from the ground up, and developing a brand document helps to formalise the brand and makes technical guidelines accessible.

The authors also emphasise the importance of ensuring brand consistency, that the brands’ commercial rights are protected, and that key stakeholders are educated about their brand. This can be aided by recruiting a ‘brand champion’ within the organisation, as a key contact for involving stakeholders and the grassroots community in the creation of the brand and it’s ‘vibe’. There will always be limitations on how to communicate and implement that feedback, but co-ownership of the process is as important as co-owning the outcome.

It’s important to realise that creating a brand takes time, up to several years, and board members need to believe in it first. In addition, sponsors look for high values and good governance from a sport they want to invest in, regardless of the size of the NSO.

Regarding best practices for NSOs’ brand management and governance, including effective social media strategies, NSOs are firstly encouraged to develop a multi-media asset bank for immediate access to dynamic content – this could be achieved by building a cloud repository of photos and videos.

Secondly, NSOs would benefit from creating a social media calendar that includes key dates such as athlete birthdays, major events and competitions, and other sport and non-sport milestones. This will help push content onto social media feeds regularly.

The authors also recommend that NSOs reach out to partner with other sports or individual athletes, and co-create social media engagements.

Equally important is to make social media a discussion point at board level, and to develop a marketing strategy with a social media section. This can create and control the NSOs’ online voice, narrative and persona – in short: the brand.

Finally, it’s key to ensure that all members at every level understand this voice, narrative and persona, and how it connects back to the NSOs’ mission, vision, and values.

In summary, NSOs must work like businesses and incorporate brand governance by setting goals, defining key performance indicators, and engaging in social media analytics.

As one of the NSO leaders stated: “The brand is more than a logo, it is a promise, a set of expectations (a value proposition) that an NSO offers to people who interact with their organization.”

That’s all for this episode – thanks for listening, and stay subscribed to Research Pod for more of the latest science. See you again soon.

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